New York man planned Election Day suicide bombing in Washington, DC

A New York man named Paul Rosenfeld has been arrested by the FBI for plotting an election day suicide bombing which he intended to carry out on the National Mall in Washington, DC. NBC News reports the man’s goal was to raise the profile of an alternative system of selecting government officials called sortition:

Court documents say Paul Rosenfeld, 56, of Tappan, wanted to draw attention to his belief in “sortition,” the ancient practice of randomly selecting legislators out of a pool of eligible voters…

Rosenfeld confessed to the plot, telling the agents he ordered black powder over the internet and built a bomb in his basement, court papers say.

Rosenfeld also told the agents that he installed certain components in the device to ensure that he was killed.

Investigators scoured his home and discovered a bomb that weighed 200 pounds but included only eight pounds of explosive black powder, court papers say.

The Albany Times Union has a bit more on Rosenfeld’s activities:

Rosenfeld took the black powder to New York, constructed smaller explosive devices and conducted test detonations, according to the criminal complaint.

William Sweeney Jr., the assistant director of the FBI’s New York field office, said in a statement that Rosenfeld intended to “detonate a large explosive to kill himself and draw attention to his radical beliefs.”

“Had he been successful, Rosenfeld’s alleged plot could have claimed the lives of innocent bystanders and caused untold destruction,” Sweeney said in the statement. “Fortunately, his plans were thwarted by the quick action of a concerned citizen and the diligent work of a host of our law enforcement partners and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

The person who deserves credit for tipping authorities is a Pennsylvania reporter. Apparently, Rosenfeld sent messages to the reporter about his plans and they contacted authorities. There’s not much detail about what was said to the reporter. Was it anonymous? Did the FBI have to track him down? Or did he just put himself out there?

Authorities are saying Rosenfeld wasn’t part of a larger group, this was his plan alone, and I believe that. There can’t be many people prepared to die for “sortition.” I’m not sure I’d ever heard the word but I have heard of the concept. Here’s the Brittanica entry on it:

A method of choosing public officials in some ancient Greek city-states. It was used especially in the Athenian democracy, from which most information about the practice is derived. With few exceptions, all magistrates were chosen by lot, beginning with the archons in 487–486 BC; likewise the Boule (council) of 500 and the juries of the law courts were chosen by lot. The practice of sortition obviated electoral races and provided for the regular turnover of officeholders. The operations of government were thus not in the hands of experts, but, through the system of sortition, the Athenian democracy provided at least some practical political education for its citizens.

Okay, I guess I can see a certain appeal to choosing officials by lot. No more campaign commercials. No need for expensive campaigns requiring the candidate to spend a lot of time courting donors. I still prefer democracy. What I really don’t get about this story is how blowing himself up was going to advance the cause of sortition? True, a lot more people would hear about it on the news but wouldn’t they also associate it with crazy people. Simply put, domestic terrorism doesn’t seem like a great PR plan.

Finally, since you can find anything on YouTube, I looked to see if anyone had blown up a black powder bomb. Sure enough, there are lot of them. Here’s what the explosion of 2 pounds of black powder looks like. Multiply this by four and this could easily have been very deadly to people nearby: